I have been reviewing Duties of the Soul, edited by Niles Goldstein and Peter Knobels. In the second chapter of the book, Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf makes two comments that amount to what I consider an unflattering, but too often true, picture of Christian theology.
The topic of the chapter is bringing Reform Judaism to a deeper sense of obligation to God’s commandments. Wolf identifies the “original sin” of Reform Judaism as elevating human freedom of choice above divine commandment.
In that context, Wolf makes this comment about Jesus:
We do not agree with the New Testament passage in which Jesus says that not what goes into one’s mouth but only what comes out is important.
A little later in the discussion he says about Paul:
Reform Judaism must surrender once and for all any elements of a fatal Pauline anomism that denies value to obedience and it must accept Jewish authenticity.
Well, Rabbi Wolf assesses the situation this way: Christianity’s founder, Jesus, and main propagater, Paul, were both anti-Torah. And most Christian commentators agree. I cannot tell you how many times I have found intelligent Christian interpreters, whom I respect in many ways, making the case that Jesus overturned the Law. Even now I am reading Craig Blomberg’s commentary on Matthew, and he repeatedly makes this assertion.
Let me attempt to clarify both points:
1. Jesus did not repeal the dietary law in Mark 7 or anywhere else.
2. Paul was not an antinomian (anti-Law).
First, Jesus and Mark 7. I won’t thoroughly exegete the passage, but make a few simple comments.
1. The issue in Mark 7 is not the dietary law from Leviticus 11, but the issue of ritual handwashing before eating.
2. In ritual handwashing, the concern is secondary defilement–I might touch someone who has touched something unclean and then touch my food and ingest something unclean.
3. This type of defilement is not directly taught in Torah, but is derived through one interpretation of Torah.
4. Yeshua did not agree with requiring handwashing and his some of his disciples did not practice it (though Yeshua apparently did).
5. Yeshua in a few instances disagreed with the traditions of the elders, even on some issues that became fixed halakhah at a later point.
6. Mark 7:19 DOES NOT say as the NIV translates, “In saying this, Jesus declared all foods ‘clean.'” It does not even say, as the NASB translates, “Thus He declared all foods clean.”
What does Mark 7:19 say? “…because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated, cleansing all foods.” The NIV, without telling the reader, inserts quite a few words not in the text, even the name Jesus!! The NASB inserts the phrase “thus he declared.” The clause has been taken by commentators for a long time as a parenthetical comment, as Mark adding a comment to the words of Yeshua. But it could just as easily be taken as part of Yeshua’s own statement. In fact, it makes perfect sense as part of the logic of Yeshua’s statement. The natural reading is: “…because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated, cleansing all foods.”
Yeshua’s logic is simple. You don’t need to worry about secondary defilement from touching food because you eat the food and pass out the indigestible parts. Any uncleanness would pass out of you. This is not an argument for eliminating God’s commandments concerning which meats Israel can eat since even touching unclean meats defiles. Read Leviticus 11 if you don’t believe me.
Yet Christian interpreters for many centuries have been willing to affirm with Paul on the one hand that Yeshua was born under the law and yet affirm on the other hand that he taught his disciples to break it. This is contradictory and harmful. This is not the Yeshua of the Bible.
As for his saying that it is what comes out of our mouth, not what goes in, that makes us unclean: this is typical hyperbole from the mouth of Yeshua. His point could be summed up this way: Instead of making regulations to prevent esoteric possibilities of defilement, you ought to quit slandering and sinning with your mouths.
Finally, about Paul being an antinomian–this is a misunderstanding. No short article can deal with this issue fully. I wrote an entire book explaining Paul’s stance on the Law (Paul Didn’t Eat Pork, get it here). But in order to give you something to chew on, here are a few thoughts:
1. Paul wrote mostly to Gentiles who, according to Acts 15, did not have to keep all of the Torah as Jews do.
2. Paul’s words to Gentiles stating their freedom from the Torah should not be construed as making Torah obsolete.
3. The Torah itself limits certain commands to Israel (dietary law, Sabbath, circumcision–see my book for details).
4. Paul also declared us free, including Jews, from the curse of the Torah and its ability to deal death. In Yeshua, we are set free, not from the Law, but from the law of sin and death–the curse of the Torah, not the commandments of the Torah.
5. The books of Acts declares emphatically Paul’s continuing practice of Torah, especially Acts 21:20-24.
6. 1 Corinthians 9:20-21 cannot be interpreted as saying that Paul eats bacon with Gentiles and recites Kaddish with Jews. Read my book for details.
Here is my big point: if we in Messianic Judaism and our friends in the church want Jewish people to consider Yeshua, then we have got to get our theology of the Law of Moses in order. We cannot expect Jews to respond to a gospel that says, “IN ORDER TO BE SAVED, YOU MUST DISOBEY GOD AND START BELIEVING IN JESUS.” As Mark Kinzer has said, when a Jew says no to Yeshua, it is frequently a ‘yes’ to God, because we have presented Yeshua as the opposite of the Law of Moses which every Jew has been commanded to follow.